Attention Alters Perceived Attractiveness

Psychol Sci. 2016 Apr;27(4):563-71. doi: 10.1177/0956797616630964. Epub 2016 Mar 10.


Can attention alter the impression of a face? Previous studies showed that attention modulates the appearance of lower-level visual features. For instance, attention can make a simple stimulus appear to have higher contrast than it actually does. We tested whether attention can also alter the perception of a higher-order property-namely, facial attractiveness. We asked participants to judge the relative attractiveness of two faces after summoning their attention to one of the faces using a briefly presented visual cue. Across trials, participants judged the attended face to be more attractive than the same face when it was unattended. This effect was not due to decision or response biases, but rather was due to changes in perceptual processing of the faces. These results show that attention alters perceived facial attractiveness, and broadly demonstrate that attention can influence higher-level perception and may affect people's initial impressions of one another.

Keywords: attention; face perception; perception; visual attention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Beauty*
  • Facial Recognition*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Visual Perception*
  • Young Adult